The Kite Runner Key Ideas and Commentary
by Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Kite Runner is being marketed as not just the first novel by its author, Khaled Hosseini, a medical doctor, but the first novel of its kind: an Afghan novel written in English. That, however, is the least of the achievements of this accomplished if not quite flawless debut work which has been hailed as “a haunting morality tale” and “a stirring tale of loyalty and betrayal.” Despite being occasionally melodramatic and overly symmetrical, The Kite Runner is a modestly told, quietly ambitious, story of its narrator- protagonist’s journey from his rather comfortable life in Kabul in the 1970’s to his and his father’s fleeing the country in 1981 and beginning life anew as struggling immigrants in Fremont, California, and, following marriage and the publication of his own first novel, his fateful return to Taliban-run Afghanistan in 2001, where he will atone for a past wrong.

The story begins where Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize-wining novel, The God of Small Things, ends: with a betrayal. Amir has a rather difficult relationship with his father, a successful businessman and social progressive, an imposing man who builds an orphanage but who finds his son weak. Amir is weak, and not just physically in a patriarchal culture that prizes manly competition. His weakness takes a terrifying turn in his dealings with Hassan, the devoted servant who is also his friend. Opposites in certain ways (Amir is a privileged Pastun, Hassan one of the despised minority Hazaras), they are virtually identical in others, most obviously in age and in having nursed at the same breast (following the death of Amir’s mother and the disappearance of Hassan’s).

Hosseini successfully sketches not just his characters and their complex social situation, but more importantly the psycho-pathology of their relationship: the petty cruelties that privilege invites, the risk of these escalating into betrayals with far-reaching consequences, and the way loving devotion can become masochistic submission. Hosseini proves especially adept in placing Amir’s story in the larger Afghan context and in making each an allegory of the other. And while his taking his story just past September 11, 2001, seems forced, more an editorial decision than an authorial choice, subsequent events make The Kite Runner not only more timely but more necessary as American interest shifts from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Review Sources

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 9 (May 1, 2003): 630.

Library Journal 128, no. 19 (November 15, 2003): 114.

Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2003, p. E6.

The New York Times Book Review, August 3, 2003, p. 4.

People 60, no. 2 (July 14, 2003): 47.

Publishers Weekly 250, no.19 (May 12, 2003): 43.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 2003, p. M1.

The Times Literary Supplement, October 10, 2003, p. 25.

USA Today, May 22, 2003, p. D6.

The Washington Post Book World, July 6, 2003, p. 3.

Themes

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

Identity and Self-Discovery

Throughout the novel, the protagonist struggles to find his true purpose and to forge an identity through noble actions. Amir's failure to stand by his friend at a crucial moment shapes this defining conflict. His endeavor to overcome his own weaknesses appears in his fear of Assef, his hesitation to enter a war-torn country ruled by the repressive Taliban, and even his carsickness while driving with Farid into Afghanistan. Late in the novel, Amir discovers his father's lifelong deception about his half brother Hassan, a revelation that leads to a deeper understanding of who his father was and how he and his father had both betrayed the people who were loyal to them.

Family, Fathers, and Fatherhood

In this novel in which family relationships play a great part, mothers are strikingly absent. Although Soraya is a loving mother to Sohrab, Amir and Hassan grow up without their mothers. Meanwhile, the tension of father-son relationships is exemplified by Baba's treatment of his sons, Amir and Hassan. While Baba is disappointed in Amir's bookish, introverted personality, to protect his social...

(The entire section is 1,490 words.)